Easily one of my best memories of the four-and-a-bit years I lived in England is of the canal cruise my flatmates and I went on from Rugby to Warwick.
There we were, five mates – four Kiwis and a token Australian, not including our Brummie captain – on one of those quintessentially British narrowboats, casually cruising down the picturesque canals of the English countryside.
I can picture it now (and you can, too, thanks to the wonders of digital photography)…
And this was our ship…
We first read about this canal cruise holiday in an advertisement in free weekly Kiwi/Aussie mag TNT Magazine. We’d catch the train from London to Rugby on a Friday night, sleep on the boat that night, depart on Saturday morning and arrive in Warwick on Sunday afternoon.
Our captain was a pleasant chap from Birmingham, laid-back and friendly, who was only too happy to accommodate our one request: that we find somewhere to watch the New Zealand All Blacks rugby match on Sunday afternoon.
You know how England has a lot of pubs? Well, it seems even on a narrowboat, in the middle of the English countryside, you’re never far away from a pint of ale and a packet of crisps.
And while we’re on the topic, the pubs along the canals are some of the loveliest we’d ever seen in the UK. They were proper country pubs, where the regulars all know each other, and a boat load of Kiwis and Aussies coming in to watch a rugby match is definitely not an everyday occurrence.
We’d get talking to the locals, share a couple of laughs, and then we’d end up challenging them to a game of skittles – a popular indoor pub game in this part of England.
English skittles is played on a table; you take turns throwing the “cheese” (a round block of wood) at a table of pins, trying to knock them all down. We’d never encountered this game before in London, but we quickly embraced this new and exciting pub game.
Something they also have lots of along these canals is locks…
These remarkable feats of engineering raise and lower boats between different water levels along the canals. I won’t pretend to know exactly how they work, but every now and again we’d have to jump from the boat over to the shore and open/close a lock for our boat to pass through.
Sometimes, you’d meet one or two other boats at these locks, so you’d have a chat with the other boaties while you waited your turn to pass through.
Operating the locks was easy enough, as our captain demonstrated on the first lock we came to – you simply wind or unwind a valve that controls the lock’s gate and water flow. After that, we’d be able to do it ourselves while the captain stayed aboard the boat.
We had a go driving the boat, too, and one of my mates enjoyed that so much he pretty much took over captain duties until we arrived in Warwick.
It was spring in the United Kingdom, but it was still fairly brisk at night – which was okay because our boat had a fireplace. We’d be snug in our bunks all night, and we’d wake to the smell of coffee brewing on the stove in the morning.
During the day, we’d hang about on the front of the canal boat or sit on its roof. We’d crank some beats, drink beer and enjoy the lovely weather. Life was good.
England had never looked so lovely – except when we saw Warwick in the distance, because then we knew our weekend canal cruise was over and we’d have to catch the train back to London.
While you’re here, check out these top 5 London day trips.